Reclaiming a Hat Icon: How to Turn a Trilby into a Victorian Lady’s Hat Tutorial

This post is a bit of a weird ride– from Charles Dickens to Trolls to Britney Spears. But you could get a great hat out of the deal!

I should have written this post almost a year ago when I went to Dickens on the Strand with Mistress of Disguise back in December of 2018, but I really fell off the blogging wagon and didn’t. So, finally, here’s a blog post about my costumes for Dickens on the Strand 2018– beginning with my thifty hat makeover:

While it’s not the most flattering hat on everyone, the trilby (commonly misidentified as a fedora) comes in a vast array of materials and sizes. In fact, after ballcaps, beanies, and cowboy hats (here in Texas at least), the trilby is the most readily available male hats. You can even buy them at Walmart for less than $10.

via Quora

I have a massive love of hats! I have at least 30 of them, some of them vintage, some new, and many modded for costuming. Some of them are also my husband’s hats, like his tricorn, cowboy hat, and numerous old fedoras/trilbies. However, both fedoras and trilbies have gotten a sour reputation recently because of their association with internet trolls and creepy pick-up “artists.” Due to these bad stereotypes, my husband hasn’t been wearing his old trilbies as much anymore, so they were just gathering dust in my closet.

But did you know that fedoras actually started as a popular unisex, feminist fashion in the 1880s and trilbies are perfect for transforming into Victorian lady’s hats? Yes, indeed! So when I needed a last minute hat to go with my flannel 1880s bustle dress, I decided to take the trilby back from the trolls and give one of those old hats a new life.

During the 1870s, bonnets began to be replaced by hats as the fashionable form of daytime headgear for ladies. The ancestor of the modern fedora was actually created in the 1880s as a hat worn by all-around badass Sarah Bernhardt, who wore the first fedora during a play called, well, Fedora!

I couldn’t find a photo of Sarah Bernhardt in her original Fedora, but here she is in a different cool hat. You can see how you could easily make a similar hat by modifying a modern fedora.

In 1894, The Trilby hat was invented and also got its name from the hat style worn in the theatrical production, but the trilby was worn by a male actor and has thus been a man’s hat from the start. However, the shape shows up in women’s hats of the previous decade, making all our currently-much-maligned trilbies the perfect base for last-minute-panic Victorian bustle hats!

Natural Form Era hats. The Vintage Dancer has an excellent article on 19th century ladies’ hats! Click the fashion plate above to visit.

Lady’s Hat, circa 1885 via the Met Museum

I took trimming inspiration for my last-minute trilby transformation from 1880s hats like the lady’s on the left.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any in-progess pics of my Dickens on the Strand hat because– in my usual fashion– I made it literally the night before Megan and I left for Galveston! However, I did absolutely nothing to the base hat, just trimmed it (haphazardly).

I used 1 roll of cream-colored ribbon from Walmart, a netting remnant, and pinned an antique silver dime brooch to the front.

Now, there is a secret to every successful hat…and I’m going to spill the beans just for you.

As I have stated before, this is just a plain old man’s store-bought trilby. Even under all the trimmings, it’s still very visibly a modern trilby…probably because it’s a good two sizes too big! It’s my husband’s, so it’s an XL hat made to fit a 6′ 2″ dude. If I just plop it down on my head, it’s so huge it engulfs half my noggin!

Yet, most modern hats– even ones sized correctly for your head– sit far too low on the face. If you’ve ever gotten photos back from an event only to discover your face is all shadowed over and hidden by your hat, it’s because modern hats have very wide, deep crowns to sit far enough down on your head to keep them in place at the expense of your forehead.

But don’t worry, you still look fabulous!

Historical women’s hats, however, were designed to perch on top of elaborate hairstyles, particularly buns. Often, they hardly touched you head at all, sitting entirely atop a nest of fluffy hair instead.

 

And instead of relying on a deep crown to stay in place, women used hat pins.

Call the Police! I’m Wearing an Illegal Hatpin!

Even if a hat had a deep crown, it often had an interior fabric “cap” or drawstring ring that kept the crown from swallowing your head.

Some well-designed modern hats still use this feature. This is the inside of my favorite modern “church lady” hat that I wear for Edwardian costumes. You can see the drawstring ring inside that adjusts to fit your head so the enormously tall crown doesn’t eat your face.

Any of these things can be done to modify a modern hat to fit in a historical manner. In the case of my trilby-turned-Victorian hat, I didn’t have time to put in a fitting ring, but I did have plenty of hair to stuff into it. This kept it aloft.

In fact, the true secret to historical hat success isn’t just the hat itself: it’s the hair under it!

Properly styled hair– even if it’s the most simplistic version of a period style– instantly takes you from hat rookie to hat champion!

To demonstrate this better, here is a series of hasty, terrible bathroom selfies I took.

Let’s start with a modern trilby I have that actual fits me correctly:

If you want to use a trilby to make a Victorian hat, I recommend starting with one that actually fits, or one slightly too small.

As you can see, it fits much better than my big brown one! But with the deep hat crown and modern hairstyle, the farthest back in time this hat takes me is high school in the early 2000s. No thanks!

BRING IN THE HISTORICAL HAIR!

This is my go-to basic hairstyle. It’s my collarbone length hair pulled up in a simple bun and then my beloved “curl loaf” slapped on the front. Nothing fancy.

This style is perfect for the 1880s and 1890s, but it can carry you from the late 1870s to the 1910s if you really need to. Plus, it works especially well with hats! The bun gives you something to perch your hat on so it stays off your face, and it give you something to safely stab hat pins into to keep everything in place. The curls up front also help lift the crown of the hat away from your face and, if you’ve got strong features or a large face like me, the curls peek out from under the hat a bit to soften your face. Plus, the hairstyle looks good on its own, in case you have to remove your hat.

Now that you’ve got your hair in place, you can play with how you wear your hat! To instantly take a trilby from modern to old-fashioned, wear it on the back of your head for a more bonnet-like appearance:

A fashion plate from the late 1870s showing bonnet-like hats worn on the back of the head to take trimming inspiration from.

You can also wear the trilby backwards so that the curled part of the brim is at the top of your head to help disguise the modernness even more. Covered in trimmings like puffy bows and feathers or covered in fabric to match your dress will further transform it!

Covered in lace and fabric, a modern trilby could be used as a base for these 1870s bonnets! Notice how these bonnets/hats are sitting way up high on a giant mound of hair, as was fashionable in the 1870s. The hats aren’t even touching their faces or necks. Worried you don’t have enough hair? Don’t worry! Most Victorians used plenty of hairpieces to make such fab hairstyles.

Another way to wear it is perched up on your hair completely, tilted forward a tad. Rather than disguising the shape of the trilby, this angle shows off the full shape and works well for the more tailored looks of the 1880s:

Of course, wearing it this way also puts your hair on display more, so make sure the back is nice and neat (unlike mine, ha!).

So many trim options! From the 1870s to the 1880s.

No matter how you choose to wear it, however, you will want to trim it. Depending on your trilby’s material. you might be able to get away with a few ribbons or spray of flowers, but the Victorians loved trims and, as you can see in the fashion plate examples, the base hat is often buried under a mound of bows, lace, feathers, flowers, and other crazy-fun whatnots! So get creative and go wild with the trims!

For my 1880s dress, I wore my/my husband’s giant trilby perched on top of my head. It was so huge it still kind of ate my head, but it worked perfectly for a last-minute hat with not a lick of hat blocking required! Plus, it was inexpensive. Since I recycled an old hat, I only had to spend money on the ribbon, which was, like $3. I guess if you wanted to count it, the $10 brooch was the biggest expense, though I had that on-hand, too, or it could easily have been replaced with a big button. Is this method perfectly HA and the pinnacle of design? Ha, no! But all-in-all, it worked just as I needed it to!

HAPPY COSTUMING, M’LADIES! ;)

The Procrastinator’s Purse: A Free Printable Reticule Pattern

So I am the queen of procrastination and when I made my Renaissance Fair dress last month, I realized the night before that I had nowhere to put my “modern necessities,” i.e. my cellphone, chapstick, safetypins, and the like.

Drawstring purses are pretty easy to make and there are tons of variations ranging from a simple square folded over to more complex bags with flat bottoms, and fancy linings. I have made simple drawstring purses mere minutes before I had to be out the door, but this time I had a few hours. Plenty of time for a slightly gussied-up version! All I knew is that I wanted something shield-shaped that could fit my book-shaped cellphone case and other sundries. This is the final result, which I’ve dubbed THE PROCRASTINATOR’S PURSE:

I was originally going to do an exhaustive walk-through of how to draft your own pattern for one from a piece of US Letter (A4) paper…

…but then I decided to save y’all the trouble and just make a PDF version you can download and print from home!

The Procrastinator’s Purse Pattern PDF

To maximize the size, it does go all the way to the edges of the paper, so your printer at home may cut off the top and bottom a bit. Just draw it back in. I am no professional pattern or instruction drafter myself, so don’t worry about getting it just right. This is the Procrastinator’s Purse, not the Perfectionist’s Purse!

I put two shapes on the pattern for you to choose from: a sharp triangle bottom (solid line) and the curved shield-shaped bottom (dotted line). Seam allowance is already accounted for. This pattern can be sewn with a 1/2″ or regular 5/8″ seam allowance. It’s just up to your personal preference and how much room you want.

The first time I made this purse, it took two and a half hours because I was just making it up as I went along and I added trim. Now that I know what I’m doing, the plain striped version I whipped up for this post took only an hour to make!

Step 1: Cut 2 of your fashion fabric and 2 of your lining fabric. The lining will show, so keep that in mind when picking out your fabrics!

I picked two scraps for this demonstration: striped faux-silk from the Regency waistcoat I made for my friend Wix and swiss dot cotton from my Butterick 6093 project.

If you want to add any trim across the front of your purse–like I did for the yellow and black version of this bag–sew it to the right side of your fashion fabric first before proceeding with the next steps.

Step 2: Pair each fashion fabric piece with a lining piece. Put the right sides together. Use a pin to mark where the top line of the drawstring stitching goes on each side.

Step 3: With right sides together, sew each fabric/lining pair around the squared top edge starting above the pins marking your drawstring. I recommend backstitching at the beginning and end of your stitch line for strength.

Clip the corners before turning the pieces right-side-out. Iron the pieces flat, turning under the seam allowances about 2 inches down the sides. This will make sewing the drawstring channel easier. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of this step, but if you scroll down to the picture in step 5, you can see the leftover fold marks.

Step 4: Sew the drawstring channel. The channel I put in the pattern is 1/2 inch wide. This is top-stitched, so your stitching will show on the outside of the bag. Pick a color of thread that blends into your bag (at least for the most part).

Step 5: Once you’ve got both drawstring channel stitch lines done, make small snips in the seam allowances so you can iron it flat. Do this to the seam allowances on both the fashion fabric and lining.

Once you’ve snipped the seam allowances and ironed the two halves of the purse flat, put the two halves together with the fashion fabric sides together.

Step 6: Stitch the two purse halves together starting below the bottom of the drawstring channel. Backstitch at the start and end of your stitch line for extra strength. Be careful not to sew the ends of your drawstring channel shut!

This purse is not bag-lined, so it will have “raw-ish” edges on the inside (remember: this is the Procrastinator’s Bag, not the Perfectionist’s Bag!). To minimize fraying and add strength to the seam, I zig-zag stitched close to my original stitch line and trimmed away the excess fabric for a neater finish (especially if your fabric wants to fray like my faux-silk did).

Turn your Procrastinator’s Purse right-side out and iron.

Step 7: Cut two long pieces of ribbon and thread them through the drawstring channels on each side of the bag.

28 inches is a good length for your ribbon, though if you like longer, more luxurious tails, you can cut yours 32 inches long. You will loose about 2 inches of length trimming the ends later, so keep that in mind.

For this demonstration purse, I used 1.5 inch wide poly satin ribbon from Walmart, which is about the widest you can fit into a 1/2 inch boning channel. For my first yellow purse, I used 3/4 inch wide ribbon elastic (the type used to make headbands and hair ties). I like the elastic  because it holds the “scrunch” at the top of the bag better than the smooth ribbon, but it does make your bag bob around when you walk and it will stretch the more stuff you carry.

To get the ribbon through the channel, I folded it over a few times and put a safety pin through as a makeshift bodkin.

The following steps are optional ones I did to achieve the look I wanted. You can do all sorts of things to personalize your Procrastinator’s Purse depending on how much you procrastinated. Have a few hours left? Add some beading. Have a few minutes left? Just tie your ribbons together and get in the car, girl!

Since I had an hour left, here’s what I did to my purse:

Trim the edges of the ribbon diagonally. This removes the pinhole left by the safety pin and will help keep the ends from fraying. To weigh them down, especially if you used a lightweight synthetic ribbon like my Walmart poly one, tie a simple knot an inch or two back from the end. You could even add beads (like the large-holed ones used for add-a-bead jewelry) if you wanted to gussy it up for evening-wear!

Tie the ends of the other ribbon together to form a carrying loop.

This purse is very deep, which is great if you have a large phone or plan to really stuff it full of souvenirs. However, all that stuff puffs out the point, distorting the nice shape and leading to a lot of inelegant and frustrating digging around for tiny things at the bottom of the purse.

To alleviate both these problems, I squared off the bottom with a line of stitching 1.5 inches up from the point. I marked a optional stitching line for it on the PDF pattern. This stitch line can be moved father down, too, if you want a squared bottom, but your phone/fan/etc. needs a bit more room.

The joy of horizontal fabric stripes: my fabric happened to have a handy-dandy line right where I needed it!

And for a last bit of pizzazz, I added a dangle to the point of the purse. For both purses, I used an Indian wedding earring from a pair that I found at a flea market.

AND IT’S DONE!

This purse is big enough that everything in the above picture– cellphone+case, chapstick, 40″ strand of glass pearls, vintage cigarette-turned-business-card case, safety pins, hairpins, and fan– fits inside:

Shazam! Magical disappearing act!

Huzzah! Now I have one version that matches my Renaissance dress and another that will work with my Regency and Edwardian dresses!

It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty, practical project for the ambitious Procrastinator!

If you make your own Procrastinator’s Purse (or any drawstring purse), pop over to my Facebook Page and send me a picture so I can see it!

Hair Tutorial: A Basic Game of Thrones or Fantasy Hairstyle

Hairstyling is not my strong point, but over the years, I have slowly figured out a few tricks to make historical hairstyles work for me. When I made my Game of Thrones dress, I knew I would need a hairstyle to go with it. McCalls 6940 is based on Kings Landing fashions from the earlier seasons of the show. The hairstyles varied depending on the character wearing it (personality, prestige, all that jazz), but there were some basic features that seemed fairly universal: half-up, braided, and loose waves.

Cersei

Cersei

Margaery

Margaery

Sansa

Sansa

As luck would have it, the styles aren’t too far off from an era I’ve already tackled hair for: the 1870s!

My basic 1870s hairstyle. You can click here for the tutorial.

In fact, here’s an original 1870s hairstyle “how to” that, if you stopped before the last step and just left the hair loose in back, would make a perfect Westeros style:

As you can see in the original 1870s tutorial above, hairpieces are almost always necessary to get the right look, even if you have fairly long hair. The secret to costume-perfect hair is the magical “curl loaf.”

Behold! The Curl Loaf!

For my Game of Thrones hairstyle, I wanted a very full look, a mix of Margaery’s overabundant curls with Cersei’s and Sansa’s braided buns. Even though I have hair past my shoulders and my fab-o curl loaf, for a properly fantastic noblewoman’s hair-do I needed MORE HAIR. My curl loaf is from from “Hair World by Jamie.”  I usually buy from their eBay store because it’s usually a few dollars cheaper, but they have a regular website, too. I was so pleased with the color and service that I ordered a matching clip-on ponytail from their eBay store. The clip is HUGE and secure, so it’s easy to wear. I am pretty pleased with it!

RAWR!
To make the crescent bun shape, I use the clip sideways. I gathered it into a ponytail with ribbon and made two braids: only large, one small.

I have difficult hair to match because the roots are naturally much darker than my ends which are more reddish to boot. You can see what I mean in the pics below where my natural ends peek out from under the hairpiece. When I do a regular bun out of my natural hair, it looks almost fake because my ends are such a different color! I  match hairpieces to my roots for that very reason. It looks more natural that way. These two hairpieces are both #10s on the  HWBJ color chart and are a perfect match for my roots. My ends are closer to a #15.

Together with my curl loaf and just four bobby pins, I was able to create this hairstyle:

It looks complex, but it’s deceptively simple! First, I put my hair half up. Then I clip the ponytail on sideways, bobby pin the braids how I like them, clip on the curl loaf to hide the ribbon in back, and I’m done! I made a little illustration chart to explain it visually:

I color coded it for enhanced clarity: Yellow is your natural hair, red is the clip-in ponytail, blue is the thick braid, green is the little braid, and hot pink is the curl loaf (which I made pink because it totally looks like a tiny brain in my drawing!).
When you make the ponytail on the hairpiece, use ribbon, not a hair-tie. Modern elastic hair-ties add a lot of thickness and spring and are very obvious/hard to hide. Ribbon lies smoothly and if you choose a raw silk one that is similar in color to the hair, it hides so much more easily! I’ve discovered that much of the struggle I have styling historical hair comes from overly-bulky elastic hair-ties. It’s amazing how much difference styling with ribbon or twine can make!

This hairdo looks super complex, but it only takes about 15 minutes to do and is really easy to wear!

The ponytail is a bit heavy, but it doesn’t pull or pinch my scalp, plus the braids can be rearranged in a variety of ways to change the look. If you don’t have curly or wavy hair, curl your natural hair before putting on your hairpieces for extra volume or choose a straight hairpiece instead of a curled one.

Valen-Teens Tea and My 4th Version of Butterick 6093

Butterick 6093 Redo..trois…quatre!

valenteen-tea-ii2017’s sewing projects got off to a rocky start, but I threw myself into planning for Valen-Teens Tea with the DFW Costumer’s Guild. We would be hosting a special guest: Laura, the creator and president of Shear Madness!

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Check out the Shear Madness Blog here.
And the Facebook community here.

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Photo courtesy of Barb Chancey

The event started off as informal and small, but soon grew to quite a full party! We met up at the Secret Garden Tea Room in the Montgomery Street Antique Mall in Fort Worth for an early lunch and, of course, tea:

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After tea, we browsed the antique mall for a little while and then went for a nice stroll in the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens next door.

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The event’s theme was 1910s, so Becky wore a thrifted Edwardian outfit she put together from the wonderland that is Goodwill, including her favorite lavender skirt, a pin-tucked floral blouse, and a vintage wool coat she got for a steal– $15! To top it off, she wore a rosey straw hat with a floral spray left over from my Edwardian Hat Hack.

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Becky’s outfit Breakdown:

Pink straw hat – $3.49, Goodwill
Floral Pin-tuck blouse – $4.49, Goodwill
Lavender formal skirt – $7.49, Goodwill
Vintage wool coat – $14.95, Goodwill
Total: $30.42
(Her stockings and shoes were from her daily wear clothes. Always check your own closet! you never know what will work perfectly for a costume!)

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Becky, 1915 style!

For my outfit, I dug Butterick 6093 out of the bottom of my pattern drawer. I’d made it a few years ago and had been less than impressed with the fit. However, I liked the general look and it goes together really fast, so I decided to give it another try.

Previous versions:

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Version 1, July 2015: “Straight” Size 12 made from cotton and a sari. It was a tad small.

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Version 2, August 2015: 1st attempt at a multi-sized dress made from a cotton sheet and a dupatta that Laura sent me. Made for my sister who was the same size I was at the time. It turned out a little too large.

So, I had Goldilock’s problem: the first dress was too small, the second dress was too big…I needed to find one that was just right!

Without the breaking and entering charges, of course.

I decided to make a wearable mockup first. That way, if I ran out of time to make the final dress, I would at least have a version that would work. A wearable mockup is a trial garment that is finished like a regular garment, but isn’t necessarily what you want the final garment to look like. It’s simplified and often made out of an inexpensive/not-so-important fabric. For mine, I had picked up some rolled up remnants of purple mystery fabric at Walmart years ago that had these nifty thick white and purple threads that made pin-tuck-like stripes in the fabric. I had never unrolled it to see what it was like. Turns out it’s cotton organdy! I almost saved it for a different project, but I had bought it with Edwardian specifically in mind, so I now-or-nevered it into a simple version of Butterick 6093:

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It’s sheer and unlined, so I used French seams for everything except the armscyes and waist seam.

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Of course, that means that I had to sew every seam twice, but it makes a really nice, neat finish on the inside of sheer fabrics.

Since I’m an entirely different size than I was in 2015, I decided to start Butterick 6093 from scratch. I had tried a new measurement method for my 1868 Monet outfit earlier in January, and while that outfit didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, the sizing method was actually really helpful: Instead of choosing on flat size, like 16, and then doing a whole bunch of alterations sizing it up and down in various places via mockups, you take a few extra body measurements and choose each pattern piece individually.

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My 1868 dress of failure.

Original photo by Festive Attyre
(one of the few pictures of this dress)

I got the idea from my Fashions of the Gilded Age by Francis Grimble. In the book, you have to take a lot of incremental measurements of your body in order to scale up the pattern pieces. In the case of Butterick 6093, instead of just measuring all the way around my bust or full bust, I broke it down into two separate measurements: 1) full front bust from side seam to side seam and 2) back from side seam to side seam at bust level. Then I laid out the tissue and measured the pattern pieces themselves instead of relying on Butterick’s suggested measurements.

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Minka “helped.”

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By using this method, I ended up with a size 14 back and a size 20 front! Sounds a bit crazy, right? But it works! Truly Victorian, the popular Victorian pattern brand, uses a similar method to select your pattern pieces. The method suits Butterick 6093 well because there are no darts or curved back seams to worry about.

I really love the purple organdy dress, but when I tried it on…

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Scientifically accurate rendering.

1910s dresses, like Regency dresses, can be problematic on certain body types. Indeed, the ice cream cone look was totally in from 1910-1913, but that isn’t a look I strive to recreate! The combo of the crisp fabric and the way I had gathered it made for a super-full front that would make a great Lumpy Space Princess cosplay, but not the most flattering tea gown.

Oh. My. Glob.

But when I put it on my dress form, it looked fab!

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I mean, it helps that my dress form is shaped like an ideal size 10 with the added bonus of having one of my old bras stuffed onto it like a giant Barbie voodoo doll that sulks in the corner of my sewing room:

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I expect things to look awesome the dress form, but if she’s very-near-to-literally having my exact bustline, why isn’t it a muffin-topped mess on her? It turns out that it’s got everything to do with my short waist.

My dress form is standardized to meet industry standards. That means she has an “average” torso length which happens to be about 2″ longer than mine! So the purple dress looked great on her because the very fitted skirt was the right length for her. On me, however, the top is about 1.5″ too tall causing the skirt to extend past where it should be, pushing the excess bodice length up and over the top, creating the unflattering droopy ice cream cone shape (Why do I end up describing all my sewing projects as desserts?!).
If you look at my previous versions, you will see a similar thing happening even at the smaller sizes.
I removed an inch off the top of the skirt pattern pieces for my final version.

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Image includes complimentary glob of cat hair for your viewing pleasure.

It was like the magic cure! No more ice cream cone!

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Of course, the final version doesn’t fit very well on my dress form, but that’s because it fits ME, not HER.

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Take that, Gertie!

The fabric I used for the final version is an amazing cotton shirting with woven swiss dots. Just like my failed 1868 dress, it is one of the last fabrics I purchased at Hancock’s before they went under. This time, however, I don’t feel like I wasted it! It was a dream to sew with. I used it “inside out” so the fuzzy side of the dots faced out. The cream fabric is a filmy cotton curtain I found at Goodwill that has a drawn threadwork look:

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Unlike the swiss dot, the curtain fabric was NOT a dream to sew with, so I didn’t make the long undersleeves I planned, but I did use it to make a contrasting rever! Thanks to my great experience with Butterick 3648, I am in love with revers! To turn 6093’s lapel into a rever, I simply taped it onto the bodice pattern piece on one side so when I cut it out, I ended up with this:

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I’ve grown to admire Butterick 6093’s versatile styling options. Even if you don’t want to do fancy stuff like make revers, it comes with a curved lapel that can be used alone or in a pair, a squared collar, and skirt panels that can be used alone or overlapped, or you can leave all those extra bits off, like I did for my purple dress! It also has two sleeve options, though I haven’t tried the long sleeves with the cuffs yet.

Pattern options include:

  • 3 skirt options: 1 drape, 2 drapes, none
  • 6 collar options: single lapel, double lapels, square collar, square collar+1 lapel, square collar +2 lapels, no collar
  • 2 sleeve options: short sleeves, long sleeves

There are over 30 combos you can make from the basic pieces alone!

And that number doesn’t even include things like changing the wrap direction of the bodice, adding extra embellishments, using more than one fabric, etc.

In fact–as a testament to the versatility of the pattern–we realized that three of us had used Butterick 6093 to make our tea dresses, but our dresses were all very different!

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While I opted for the asymmetrical collar and a double-draped skirt in light cotton, Jane used a textured wool blend and completely omitted the collar, and Laura chose the square collar and a printed cotton.

Instead of gathering the bottom of the bodice, I made two large box pleats. It’s definitely unusual, but it worked! I also box pleated the back in the same manner.

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I added a kick pleat in the back– the same solution Jane had come up with.

The dress is one piece and closes at the side seam with an invisible zipper. It’s not Historically Accurate, but it’s discreet.

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For those concerned with HA, the zipper can easily be swapped out for hooks and eyes.

Overall, I would say that this pattern is a good one if you are willing to figure out the sizing. It’s flattering on nearly all body types and is a quick dress to make. I made it in about 10-12 hours (most of that time was spent ironing, TBH).

To accessorize my dress, I wore the hat I made in my Edwardian Hat Hack, my sister’s little white purse (which goes to nearly every event!), an antique necklace, some thrifted shoes, and a very serendipitous vintage coat I found the day before.

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Photo courtesy of Mistress of Disguise

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My attempt at an autochrome.

Outfit Breakdown

4 yards of green cotton – $16, Hancock’s Fabric
1 cotton curtain – $1.49, Goodwill
1 invisible zipper – $3.50, Walmart
1 spool of thread – $1.95, Walmart
Shoes – $7.99, Goodwill
1960s coat – $18.95, Goodwill

Total – $49.88

Underneath, I’m wearing my beloved Rago 821. The way it fits me very closely mimics a Teens corset, but it’s stretchy and cheap! I got it for about $30 off Amazon. I highly recommend it for 1910s and later!

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My updated, more technical review of Butterick 6093 is posted on the Sewing Pattern Review website here.

Megan’s photos of the tea can be found on Flickr here.

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And my photos can be seen here.

A Simple 1870s Hairstyle Tutorial and a Review of Mona Lisa’s Curly Bangs Wiglet from Hair World By Jamie

Hair styling is not one of my talents, so, logically, one would assume that I might turn to wigs to make up for my skill deficit…until, of course, you hand me a wig…

Expectation:

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Sexy Pin-up.

Reality:

Captain Hook

Captain Hook.

Part of my problem is that wearing and caring for a wig still requires some level of hair competency and, frankly, I just am not a wig person. I am a hat person. A hat/bonnet/veil covers a multitude of hair sins!

She may or may not be wearing a giant plastic claw clip and three glittery butterfly barrettes underneath…

However, there are a few eras when hairdos outshone (or overshadowed) the hats. One of those eras is the 1870s. If you love fancy hair and lots of it, the 1870s is the decade for you!

The 1870s were all about big hair, big curls, big braids, and big lies. Fake hair was pretty much required for a properly full 1870s look. Most fashion-conscious women owned at least one switch of hair that wasn’t theirs. Indeed, nearly every fashionable hairstyle involved different hair extensions lie tiny curled frizzettes (fuzzy, short bangs) or even huge braids and entire chignons made of someone else’s hair:

Variety of fashionable hairstyles and the hair extensions (called switches) used to create them, circa 1867.

Ten illustrations of different types of wigs and hair pieces, Revue de la Coiffure, circa 1875

There were also all manner of Victorian hair “hacks” invented to help create the elaborate updos in vogue, not unlike all the “As Seen On TV” bun makers and curling contraptions we have today.

Hair dressing combs from Revue de la Coiffure, circa 1878
These combs were sold with instruction pamphlets so ladies and their maids could create stunning hairstyles with “less effort.” I can feel my hair knotting up just looking at them!

A later Edwardian ad for Hair Switches and Chignon Forms from a 1912 Sears, Roebuck, and Co. catalog

As my Simplicity 4244 Natural Form Era project inched closer to completion, I realized that I was going to have to do SOMETHING with my hair in order to properly top off my new 1870s outfit. Hair can really make a or break an outfit, especially a historical one. I wanted to do Simplicity 4244 proper justice, and, honestly, crazy-huge hair has always been my unattainable dream. I figured it was time to give some proper historical hairstyling a try!

I assessed my skills: I could make a high pony tail and I could curl it. Oh, and I could use one of those mesh donuts to make a smooth faux bun, like I did for the DFW Costumers Guild’s outing to Dracula:

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Confession: Christopher actually curled my hair. I just stood there and wept silently at my ineptitude.

Since then, I have learned to operate the curling iron on my own, so now I can make passable spiral curls! Huzzah! I also learned the value of sectioning hair, like parting it from side to side and dividing it to make simple braids. It all sounds so ridiculously basic writing it down, but considering I struggled to make a high “Barbie” ponytail for years, the skills many women take or granted are huge victories for me! With these few triumphs under my belt, I found inspiration in both historical and modern hair tutorials:

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“Details d’une coiffure en cheveun” hairstyle guide from 1873

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Explicación del peinado a dos cogas (Guide for a hairstyle with two rolls), circa 1866, from La Moda Elegante

Modern bridal hairstyles like this one by Ulyana Aster (especially with hair jewels), remind me of Empress Sissi’s hair.

Many of the tutorials I found were for women with thick, textured/curly, or extra-long hair. My natural hair is thin and slick, but fairly plentiful. It is all the same length and doesn’t hold curl really well, but will make a nasty knot in an instant (teasing is not my friend).

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24 hours after cowashing and air drying in the Great Texas Blow-Dryer (sweltering sunshine and western wind). It’s not a dream to style, but it is now much easier to work with than before I began cowashing and using homemade dry shampoo, which more closely mimic historical hair care methods.

With a little experimenting, I came up with an 1870s hairdo that can be done in less than 30 minutes, alone, with minimal tools and techniques. I figured there must be other ladies out there that struggle with historical hair, so I shut myself in my horribly lit bathroom for half an hour to make a photo tutorial.
My hair is below-shoulder length right now, but the method I came up with will work for shoulder length hair, too.

General Hairstyle Suitable for 1867-1880

You will need:

1 ponytail tie/elastic
1 smaller hair elastic
A curling iron
Hair pins, bobby pins, or a snap clip

Step 1: Brush your hair back into a smooth, high ponytail at your crown and secure it with a hair tie.

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 You can experiment with the height of your ponytail so it works best for your hair length and comfort. If you choose to wear a hat/cap/bonnet, make sure it will sit properly over the ponytail. You might need to raise/lower it accordingly.

Step 2: Divide your ponytail into two sections–top and bottom– and bundle the top section together with a hair elastic.

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The top part of your ponytail will become the twist and the bottom part will become the falling curls. Divide the hair according to your preference. Dividing it evenly in half will result in a fuller top twist. Taking only a third of the ponytail for the top will result in a fuller set of curls in the back.

Step 3: Curl the bottom section of your ponytail into ringlets.

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For best results, use a 3/4 inch or smaller curling iron. Mine is 3/4 of an inch and it is about as large as you can go for good period ringlets. Curling irons in the era were generally smaller or women would use rag curls, another option is you have the time. Here are some photos showing Late 1860s-1870s falling curls in a few different sizes and styles: large and tumbling, medium and neat, and small and tight.

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Step 4: Twist (or braid) the top section of your ponytail.

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To get a nice, pretty loop, I loosely twisted the top section. If you have fuller/longer hair, this section would look extra fancy braided. Braids were all the rage during the 1870s– the bigger, the better!

Step 5: Loosely loop the top section around the back of the ponytail and secure the end in front/underneath.

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This sounds tricky, but it’s really more complicated to type/photograph than to actually do. You just drape the twisted top section over the curls in the back, making a nice, languid loop. Then secure and hide the ends. I used a snap clip to secure mine, but a more subtle and period-correct method would be to use hairpins or bobby pins. If your hair is really long, you might even be able to loop it twice or make a bun!

And that’s the end of my basic 1870s style!

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You could stop here, or add a decorative comb or some flowers to dress it up. The style is very similar to this lady’s, especially if you separate the ringlets a bit with your fingers:

Kate Beckinsale…Is that you?!

However, I felt that my hair was a little too smooth and flat to look really 1870s-chic, so I decided to buy a hairpiece!

My first idea was to buy a fancy bun cover, like these:

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Bonus: bun covers are historically accurate! (see Figure 17)

Big braided buns are so totally 1870s that I just KNEW that if I could get one, I would look so incredibly fabulous that clouds would part, angels sing, and unicorns would frolic around me! However, I was dangerously close to my event deadline and most of these glorious chignons are only available directly from China. I couldn’t find a braided bun sold by a US seller, but I did find a large, curly one I thought might work okay and the seller advertised that their stock was shipped from the US and could arrive in 3-5 days.

lies!

LIES!

After placing my order, I got an apologetic email informing me that they actually didn’t stock my color in the US despite what the listing said, so it shipped directly from China anyway. I was miffed that I paid extra money for this style because I thought it was US stock, only to have it ship from China like the fancier, less-expensive versions I actually wanted. My order did arrive in time, though, BUT, it was nothing like the color in the picture! It was waaaaaay too dark. I think they sent me the next color down.

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The one on the left is the color I ordered (light brown). The one on the right is closer to the color I received (dark brown).

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So close, and yet so far!

So I paid more and waited longer for an item that I couldn’t use. I was disappointed to say the least– and rather heartbroken because I had invested so much hope into it, dreaming of solving my historical hair woes for good. Honestly, it is a super cute hairpiece that could have worked so well if it had been the right color!
After so much anticipation only to have my hopes dashed, I was really worried I wouldn’t find a good hairpiece in time for the event.

Still, I knew I needed something to complete my hair. I crossed my fingers and bought a little curly wiglet from Jamie’s Hair World on eBay. They assured me that they were US based (my item shipped immediately from California), and my item would arrive in a week. They were right!

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Doesn’t it look like a hairy cell phone cover? It’s about the right size and shape!

My camera sucks at capturing true colors in the awful florescent light of my room. The color is accurate to the color chart’s “Medium Golden Brown.” It is synthetic hair and is not overtly shiny. The texture is what I would call “quality Halloween wig,” not particularly soft, but not crunchy.

Before I show you how it looks on, here’s the main listing picture:

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Mullet madness!

The picture does not lie. You can make a pretty darn sexy mullet with it:

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This is fresh out of the package with no fluffing or styling which is why I call it my “curl loaf.”

While it might seem hideously wrong for the period, this wiglet is perfect for late Victorian hairstyles. Victorians loved big, curly bangs just as much as party girls in the 1980s! According to an article from 1894, full, curly bangs like this were called “Titus” bangs and were available as hairpieces just like mine (see Figure 31). If the Jamie’s wig model above just curled her “party in the back,” she’d be a dead ringer for the Victorian Goddess of Curly Bangs, actress Sarah Bernhardt!

If you collect Victorian Photographs on Pinterest, I can guarantee you that, at some point, you have seen or even pinned a photograph of Ms. Bernhardt. If by some miracle you haven’t, this webpage is full of her photos and portraits. Go forth and adore!

Rawr!

So despite its dubious appearance, the reason I chose this little wiglet is that it’s extremely versatile. Besides being worn as bangs, the pictures also show it styled as a curly chignon:

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And I decided to place mine at the top of my head to give my otherwise flat hair the tall, voluminous look of classic 1870s hair.

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Unlike many hairpieces which have only a few basic color choices, Jamie’s Hair World offers this hairpiece in over 20 hair colors! My hair does this funky natural ombre thing–brown at the roots that lightens to strawberry blonde– so I didn’t quite know which color would work best for me. Since I was going to wear this nearer to my roots, I chose the Medium Golden Brown. It was a good match!

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It’s super easy to put on. You just snap the little bottom combs open and clip them shut into your hair. Mine stayed perfectly in place through a whole evening in theater under my heavy tiara and didn’t budge all day in the blustery Texas wind at the Cowgirl Museum.

As I said, I’m not very adept at working with hair or wigs, so the addition of a small hat instantly hides any of my styling shortcomings and completes the look.

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This wiglet is quick, easy, and works exactly as I wanted it to. The color match was true to life as were the product pictures. As a bonus, I caught mine on sale for $15, though it is currently priced at $18 including shipping, a little more expensive than other hairpieces directly from China, but the color choices, quality assurance, and quick domestic shipping are wonderful perks. The styling and texture are very convincing in real life even with my lack of styling skills. Overall, I would give this Mona Lisa Wiglet from Hair World by Jamie a very satisfying 4.5 out of 5 rating! The perfect hairpiece for beginners!

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Conquering the Croissants Part III: Simplicity 4244 FINAL RESULTS

For 10 long sewing-skill-and-weight-gaining years, I had been beguiled by bake-shop beauty Simplicity 4244, the infamous “hip-croissant” Victorian wedding dress pattern:

“You promised the bread jokes were over…”
I LIED.

While the build-up took nearly a decade, the actual sewing itself took only about four weeks to make a double batch of dresses: one week to work up the gumption to cut the pattern, one week to fiddle with the mockup, one week to sew the ballgown for Tiaras and Toe Shoes, one week to turn the mock-up into a real dress for Bustles and Bullets the following weekend.

Though it was begun second, I finished the ballgown version first:

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Simplicity 4244 Evening Gown Cost Breakdown

8.4 yards rayon/nylon fabric – $27.66, Hancock Fabrics
1 king sized grey cotton sheet (dress lining) – $4.99, Thrift Town
1 twin size polyester sheet (bustle lining) – $1.99, Thrift Town

1 spool thread – $2.49, Walmart
17 hooks and eyes – $3, Hobby Lobby

Total: $40.13

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Yes, my tiara is on crooked. I took these pictures on a whim 20 minutes before I had to transform back into my regular librarian form for work, so my hair is a mess, too. Don’t care! Still fabulous! If I were real royalty, I might just start a jaunty-tiara trend.

I fondly think of it as my “Ariel” dress because halfway through sewing it together, I realized the shimmery–and impossible to sew– material is similar to Ariel’s modern Disney princess dress:

2013 Princess Ariel Redesign

I didn’t really have time to really roll with the theme, but I did give a little nod to her with my mermaid-tail bustle:

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The bustled train and pleated chevrons are the same fabric as the body of the dress. The right side used for the accents is very shimmery and iridescent. It’s very pretty, but I thought a whole gown of it would be kind of overwhelming and not so historical looking. So for the main body, I used the “wrong” side of the fabric which is lighter and not so shiny.

You may be getting the feeling that there’s something else different about this dress. It seems to be missing something….

Oh! I know! To make a ballgown version, I left off the sleeves:

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To slow off my toned-by-ten-hours-of-typing-a-day upper arms, of course. Why pretend to look rich if you can’t flaunt your sedentary lifestyle?

Fashion Plate, 1880

Well, that is true: my version is missing the sleeves of the original, but that’s not quite what’s bothering you?

Hmmmm…

Is it the plainness of the design? I did leave off all the trimmings except for the pleated chevrons on the skirt. Indeed, my ballgown is rather plain compared to the original pattern design and other fancy gowns of the era. I started it only a week before the event (a bad habit I’ve developed, I know!), so I didn’t get to add all the extra bits that would really make it ball-worthy. I did try to glam it up with a glittering golden floral spray I found for a steal on eBay:

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Jealous? Don’t be! Get one for yourself (or two) here!
I always expect eBay jewelry to be a little less pretty in person than the professional photos show, but this floral spray is just as gorgeous in person as it is in the picture.

Besides, I didn’t want my dress to outshine my glorious eBay tiara!

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If you need a princess crown on a pauper’s budget, this tiara was only $25 with shipping!
It’s good quality and the seller I purchased from is in the US, so if you live in the States and need a tiara quick (like I did), I highly recommend this shop.

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What? I’m STILL missing something?!
Well, let’s look at the original again:

Ah! I’ve got it now! You’ve noticed that my ballgown is COMPLETELY GLUTEN FREE!

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No breakfast foods in sight! It is a dinner dress, after all.

I am aware of the letdown this must be. After all, the whole reason everyone is so fascinated by this pattern in the first place is the handbang-sized puffs ballooning out of the side, but I SWEAR I have an excuse!

Simplicity 4244 calls for 14 yards of fabric to make according to the directions (not including all the bias binding and pleated trim). The shimmery teal fabric I chose was one of the bargain bin closeout bolts at Hancock Fabrics (*weeps silently*), so I only had 8.4 yards to work with. As I revealed in my post about constructing this gown, the pannier swags at the hips are formed by two very long polonaised bodice pieces:

simplicity 4244 pieces

Pattern pieces #1, #1A, and #3 become the swags.

With only 2/3 the fabric I needed to make the pattern as designed, I had to choose between these fabric-hogging swags and the full, luscious bustled train I desired. For the sake of my time, sanity, and design sense, I chose the full bustle.

My sacrifice (*more silent weeping*) does have an upside besides a swanky mermaid bustle: it shows the most basic structure of Simplicity 4244 and how easily you can change the design to suit you or your fabric. To do away with the overlay, I just cut pieces #4, #5, and #6 (the bodice lining, front and side skirt pieces) as one. That made the full front without the need for the polonaise layer over the top.

It also proved that the identifiably Natural Form Era lines of the dress are not dependent on the panniers. Since the pattern pieces themselves are historically accurate, the Victorian framework is already there for you to work with.

Lessons learned: The bare minimum amount of 45″ wide yardage to make an 1870s dress from this pattern is about 8 yards, and the design is not dependent on the panniers for the historical look.
Also, every women needs a tiara
!

Rest assured, friends, I did not neglect the fluffy polonaise croissants entirely.

Baking bread and latent ideas are two things you don’t want to neglect.

Before I made the ballgown, I made a mock-up. Since my initial half mock-up for this dress had gone so well, I decided to make my full mock-up a wearable mock-up. A wearable mock-up is one that you finish just like a regular gown, essentially a full garment. It was still an experiment, though, so I didn’t want to waste money on fabric if it wasn’t going to work. I chose a cheap $1-a-yard plaid cotton gauze from Walmart and used a king-sized cotton sheet for lining. Since I had the full 14 yards–well, 13.75 yards as there were some mangled sections– of fabric, I was able to make the polonaised front sections and even have enough fabric left for long sleeves and pleated trim around the hem!

BUT…

I did not make the croissants as directed!

I guess you could say that instead of full, fluffy French croissants, I made Pillsbury crescent rolls. I pleated the polonaise down the entire length of the side and skipped the rear swag entirely.
Here is the result:

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There she is!

I know, no delicious hip pastries, but the construction of the front remains nearly the same. The bottom of the polonaise front “floats” over the lining beneath:

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Since I made the mock-up with the ballgown in mind, the square neckline is a little too…ahem!…sexy for respectable daywear, especially for a old married missus like m’self! So I accessorized it with a fabulous micro-pleated cotton collar I hacked directly off an old button front blouse I’d found at Goodwill three days prior. I thought the shirt was hideous, but something in my mind nagged me to take it home. Glad I listened! The collar slips over my head like a scarf and is just the right size to keep me looking proper:

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The bows were made from the very last bit of ribbon left over from my 1850s bonnet. I used this amazing bow tutorial from The Ribbon Retreat to make the two big bows.

My dress form is a little wonky and no where near my shape, so the fit of the bodice and booty isn’t the greatest on her, but you get the idea. This dress isn’t designed to be worn over a full bustle. Instead, the bustle ties inside and my ancient tablecloth bum pad give it the right amount of fullness. Despite reducing the size of the train, it still ended up rather sizable for a walking dress. I can walk in it, though, and walk I did– around the Fort Worth Cowgirl Museum with the DFW Costumer’s Guild!

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre
(with some help from an obliging gentleman in the lobby!)

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre
I love this picture because I actually wrangled my hair into a passably suitable hairstyle despite being hair illiterate!

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre

We had a wonderful time together dressed as 1880s city folk and turn-of-the-century country cowgirls! As you can see, I was the “oldest” of the bunch, just eking over the 1880 mark. There are more photos of our outing in Jen’s Cowgirl Museum album on Flickr and if you’d like to play dress up with us, check out the DFW Costumer’s Guild website for a list of events!

Simplicity 4244 Plaid Day Dress Cost Breakdown:

14 yards of plaid cotton gauze – $14, Walmart
1 king sized sheet – $4.99, Thirft Town
Hooks and eyes – $2, Hobby Lobby
1 nearly-full spool of thread – $2.49, Walmart
Ruffle collar stolen from blouse – $4.29, Goodwill
Navy ribbon – $4.75, eBay

Total: $32.52

Alrighty! Review time!

Let’s take off the rose colored glasses and get going.

This gown is tricky for me to review because while all the techniques and the pattern pieces themselves are all fairly straight forward, the sheer amount of fabric and the fitting requirements make it unsuitable for a beginner.

If you forgo the trimming, as I did, I think a confident (or stubborn) intermediate seamstress could tackle this project with good results. I consider myself an intermediate seamstress, and I was challenged, but not frustrated, by this pattern. I would NOT try to make a ball gown out of it in a week as I did! Take your time and go slowly. You will need to be willing to work with your body in order to get the smooth fit over the torso required to make this pattern shine, so be prepared to practice making lots of darts! There is a fair amount of hand finishing: facing the neckline, sewing hooks and eyes or buttons, and sewing on the bows. If you choose to do a proper hand-sewn hem instead of a machined hem, be prepared to spend a few hours to sew the 100+ inch length (depending on your train). The large pattern pieces require lots of space to cut and assemble and can be unwieldy around the sewing machine. However, I feel the work is well worth the result you can get. The accuracy is spectacular and, as a base, the pattern offers plenty of opportunities for customization.

I had fun making this pattern and will likely make it again in the future–perhaps this time with all the carbs included!

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Part I: Researching Simplicity 4244
Part II: Making Simplicity 4244

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Sadly, this pattern is Out of Print (OOP), so it can only be purchased through private sales. If you want a copy, check online auction and craft sites. I think it’s a good candidate for a re-issue by Simplicity. Maybe if enough of us “Conquer the Croissants,” they’ll consider re-printing it so everyone can more easily get a copy to play with!

Conquering the Croissants Part II: Making Simplicity 4244

In my last post, I dug into the history of the infamous “Victorian hip croissant” pattern, Simplicity 4244:

“Please tell me you are done with the croissant jokes…”

With a clearer understanding of what the pattern was supposed to do, I was ready to start baking…er…making Simplicity 4244!

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“I hate you…”

I made both a day and an evening version of this dress. The pattern is accurate and easy to alter for either look, depending on your fabrics and trimmings. This is a pretty lengthy post because I wanted to be fairly thorough. It’s not a step-by-step guide, but I did make changes to suit my needs which I thought I should elaborate on.

The Process: Analyzing the Pattern

I had already figured out the era and the look the pattern was aiming for, but was the pattern itself historical in construction? As soon as I got my copy in the mail, I opened it to see what the pattern looked like. With over 70 steps printed in the guide and 32 pattern pieces (9 of which are not patterned on the tissue, but rather measured out on your own), I almost had a mini heart attack!

DROP THE PASTRIES! ABORT MISSION! ABORT MISSION!

BUT, upon further inspection, I realized that 38 of the 72 steps were instructions for trimming and only 8 to 9 of the 32 pattern pieces were actually needed to make the basic shape.

simplicity 4244 pieces

Blue highlighted pieces provide the basic structure of the gown.
Orange dotted pieces are helpful, but not required.
The rest is all trimming and train.

I was honestly expecting something hideously complicated, especially for the piece(s) that would form the side swags. I was surprised to discover the swags are polonaised via an elongated/skirted version of the bodice. Pattern pieces #1 and #3 in the image above become the swags merely by pleating them according to the guide provided by pattern piece #2. You’ll notice that I didn’t highlight 2 or 3 as necessary to make a dress from this pattern. You will see why later!

After I did my first mock-up (photo below), I thought, “Why is there a long, weird, curvy dart under the arm?” A few of the other instructions also caught me off-guard and I began to wonder, “Is some of the funkiness of this pattern due to the fact that it’s based directly off of an original garment with its own quirkiness?” After making the pattern twice now, I can say with certainty that Simplicity 4244 is quite accurately patterned from the original gown, including some period (and possibly personal) techniques. I cannot vouch for it from a strict candle-light-and-hand-dawn-well-water reenactor’s point of view, but from a hand-finish-the facings-but-machine-the-long-seams costumer’s point of view, this pattern is right out of the period. The little underarm dart/pleat, for example, is a tell-tale feature of period polonaise patterns. Frances Grimble’s book “Fashions of the Gilded Age, Vol. 1” even has a nice little excerpt about it in the introduction to the Polonaise section:

“‘[A polonaise] is shaped under the arm by a dart instead of the regular underarm seam.'” – F. Grimble quoting Harper’s Bazar, 1879, on page 310.

The same excerpt even describes the precise way 4244’s panniers and rear swag are formed from the elongated front bodice piece:

“‘In very many dresses the pannier fullness attached to the front is brought outside the side pieces and back. It is joined together by a large rosette or a sash bow on the middle seam of the back.'” – F. Grimble quoting Harper’s Bazar, 1879, on page 310

Indeed, when you compare Simplicity 4244 to original period patterns (in this case a polonaise dress on page 318 of “Fashions of the Gilded Age Vol. 1”), they are spot on, right down to having pleat markings to create the pannier swag:

4244 victorian original comparison

The purple tissue is my traced pattern of Simplicity 4244 pattern piece #4, the front lining, exactly as it is printed. The small Xs on the left side of the antique polonaise pattern denote the pleats to make the pannier for that particular style.

That’s what makes the gown a polonaise/princess-line hybrid: the front portion is constructed like a polonaise, but the one-piece construction and flat train behind are hallmarks of the princess style.

The Process: Cutting and Fitting

Choosing the correct size can be tricky, and I have, much like the over-stuffed puffs on the envelope, expanded beyond my usual bounds in recent months, so I went by the finished bust measurement on the back of envelope, which led me to choose a base size of 12. All the shaping at the waist and hips is done with French darts, so the bust measurement is the only “static” measurement besides length.

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Here’s the dress (inside out) before I added the front darts. Makes a cute 1920s dress, don’cha think?

I decided to fit the dress over my new Corset Story corset. While it’s not entirely accurate, the long tapered waist and a dramatic hips are perfect under the close-fitting Natural Form style. I don’t have very prominent hips to begin with, so having the extra va-va-voom really helps get the proper shape. Here’s the first mock-up I made, a straight size 12, using only the top half of the pieces to make a “bodice” of sorts:

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You could probably make this dress into a two piece dress if you chopped the pieces off at the hips like I did for my mock-up.

Not bad! I did end up completely changing the darts to accommodate my larger bust-waist ratio and shorter waist. At first, I thought I might need to remove the underarm dart, too, because it was pulling strangely, but I figured out that, like the other darts, it just needed to be tweaked to fit my body. This where the “direct from historical garment” part comes in to play. You may need longer/shorter/deeper/shallower or otherwise slightly different darts than the original wearer. Altering darts is part of the joys and sorrows of being a uniquely shaped human being!

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Original pattern in purple on the left, my changes on the right. Notice I didn’t include the side dart on my pattern. I found it easier to pinch them out by hand before adding the sleeves in order to obtain the best possible fit.

I am exceptionally proud of my French Darts. I’d never sewn them before and I was very pleased that I did them passably the very first time!

The Process: Fabric Choice

As discussed in my previous post, fabric choice is hugely important since it changes the way the swags lie. The original dress was silk satin which lets the panniers hang properly. A great fabric choice to be sure, but so very very very far out of price range!
Instead, I scurried off to Walmart for bargain-bin cotton gauze. Walmart had them in a few colors–purple was my first choice– but this yellow plaid had enough for a dress: 14 yards. And, yes, it did take nearly the entire 14 yards to make my plaid dress! If you plan on doing the original Vandyke hem and pleating, you will need closer to 16 to be safe. This is accounted for on the back of the envelope.

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Thin cotton gauze/voile is an excellent choice for this gown. It’s got the drape needed, but still has body; plus, it’s easy to sew. Highly recommend–especially at $1 a yard!

I also bought the last bit of an iridescent rayon/nylon blend from the bargain section of Hancock Fabrics (*sad sigh*) for the evening gown version.
I am terribly upset that H.F. is going out of business. I found so much awesome fabric there.

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I only had 8.4 yards of this stuff. It was painful and tedious, but I was able to squeeze an evening dress out of it with only a few tiny scraps to spare.

I used cotton sheets for the lining in both gowns. It took 1 king-sized sheet each.

The Process: Cutting

This is where I started to deviate from the design. The pattern pieces are so huge that I found it easier to cut my fabric into sections as I went. I cut the lining out of the sheet first which helped me work out the best cutting configuration for my needs.

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Obligatory “helper cat” picture.
Also, you can see some of the changes I made to the pattern. The two front skirt pieces, for example, I cut as one. On an original gown, the separate pieces were probably done so they could fit on narrower pieces of silk. My fabric was able to accommodate them as one, though. Since I was making a day dress, I also omitted the extra piece for the super-long train by cutting the back piece about 3 inches from the fold. This provided enough fabric for a full back without being overwhelming.

I am 5 foot 6 inches tall. I lengthened the skirt by about an inch all around the bottom to make it walking/ankle-length when I wear a small heel. As I discovered later, the skirt pieces are squared off at the bottom in order to form the triangle edge. If you are going for a smooth hem (as I was) you’ll need to taper them; otherwise, the bottom will not match up. I discovered this too late to fix the plaid gown, but I was able to cover the weirdness with trim.

The Process: Assembling/Not Assembling the Hip Swags

Alrighty! Here’s the fun part everyone’s curious about! How in the great blue blazes do do you make those croissants?!

Well, you assemble the skirt front(s) and lining:

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And sew pattern pieces #1/1.a on top:

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Then use use the provided guide to pleat it up into the pannier shape at the side. That’s literally it. How you pleat pattern piece #1 (and #3, if you are making the gown with the tail swags in the back) is what determines how delicious your croissants/panniers look.

It is now confession time: I majorly deviated from the pattern here. I wrestled with this decision. After all, half the glory of this pattern is the soft, fluffy hip-croissants of infamy! But, no matter how strong my drive to prove this pattern is good in spite of what folks may say, my drive to experiment with the pattern was stronger. So instead of pleating the sides from hip to bum like the pattern guide told me to, I pleated it the whole way down.

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I wasn’t sure if having lots of pleats terminating so abruptly on a princess-line gown was accurate, but my dress ended up looking similar to this extant gown:

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Brautkleid (Wedding Dress), circa 1881

In fact, my plaid dress ended up being very similar to this gown even though I didn’t mean it to be! I must have been surfing on a 1881 wavelength as I was sewing.

LESSON LEARNED: You do not need to make the hip croissants if you don’t want to! You can play with the polonaise front as much as you want. Look at extant examples for inspiration. Get creative!

For my ballgown, I left the polonaise panniers off entirely in order to get a full dress out of only 8 yards of fabric. Instead, I used pleated bands of decoration down the front.

The Process: Assembling the Back

This part is easy. You just follow the instructions given. The train is completely customizable depending on how full or long you want it. Since the train is a separate width of fabric from the back pattern piece, you can easily make it of an accent fabric like I did for my ball gown. The train gives you a lot of options to play with it by making pleats, adding layers of ruffles and lace, tucking in flowers, or playing with draping. It’s quite fun! I’m not a huge fan of the flat train. I find it rather uninteresting and difficult to maneuver, especially at crowded public events, so for my ballgown, I created a mermaid tail train.

To make the mermaid tail, I cut the train lining the size I wanted the finished train to be. Then I cut the fashion fabric much longer in order to make three fat box pleats:

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I made them a too far down, so I ended up tacking the top of the pleats up in order to get them to fall attractively.

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An entertaining view of the WIP laying flat on its side. SO. MUCH. TRAIN.

Even if you choose to leave out the train entirely, the back of the dress is very full. My plaid dress is only six inches wider than the back piece (the pattern calls for an extra 20 inches to make a full train) and it is still very VERY full and long. I struggled to get the whole thing in a picture when it’s flat:

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This would be gorgeous going down the aisle on a wedding gown and the length is pretty much fashion-plate ideal for the Natural Form Era! However, it makes getting around modern life difficult, so for the sake of myself and others, I bustled it up with some cotton tape, creating a nice little “meringue” pouf at the back to make up for my lack of croissants:

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Minka is miffed that mommy won’t let her play in the wonderful plaid tent.

A NOTE for ladies with narrow and/or swayed backs and/or large busts with a small ribcage:
The lower back of this pattern is very VERY wide. The pannier pleats are probably under the model’s arm rather than father back as they should be because the lower back is too wide. I ended up taking nearly FOUR INCHES of width out of the lower back to get it to hug my spine the way it should!

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This one change greatly improved the side profile and fit of the dress. So if you find yourself tugging at your front French darts wondering why you keep taking out more but it still doesn’t look right, take some width out of the back first! It will also help slim your side profile and give you that graceful, swooping line so prized during the Natural Form Era!

The Process: Sleeves

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Again, I failed to stick to the pattern. I didn’t make this dress with the sleeves given. Instead, I created a 3/4 length, one-piece curved sleeve (which I should post a tutorial for soon) for the plaid dress and left the sleeves off entirely for the ball gown. This was just personal preference. The two-piece, short sleeve pattern that comes with Simplicity 4244 is perfectly fine and period correct; it’s just not to my taste.

Sorry, folks!

The Process: Finishing

The pattern calls for 15 tiny buttons and button holes down the front. I have never done buttonholes before and hadn’t even figured them into my pattern fitting, so I used hooks and bars (flat eyes) to close the front instead. Again, just a personal preference.
I made 4 inch wide hem facings to finish the hems. A hem facing protects the lining and fashion fabric from wear and weighs down the train so it lays more smoothly on the ground rather than bunching up or flipping over. I also added a key component that Simplicity 4244 is completely missing: interior bustle ties!

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I can loosen or tighten the ties to give me the shape I want. The cream colored cotton tape is helping distribute the weight of the train along the seam. A period gown would also have a waist tape (an interior belt) to help support everything. I left the tape long so if I ever put a waist tape in, I can use it to help hold up the train.

Having the interior bustle tie under the skirt in back pulls the front tight to the body so that you get the very slim front profile and flared train/tail in the back. It keeps the sides from flaring out like in the line drawing and on the model which Natural Form Era gowns are not supposed to do. You can tell the original gown probably had ties, too: the ruched trimming at the bottom ends abruptly about the place where the gown would wrap around the wearer:

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Bustle ties would pull the ends under the train, masking the abrupt stop.

I did not use either of the collars provided by the pattern. Instead, I just bias bound the square neckline (this step is is included in the pattern directions). I learned a very handy trick for making beautiful, neatly-turned facings: understitching!

Understitching keeps the facing from rolling over to the front. There are tons of tutorials, but this tutorial on Craftsy helped me the most:

“Essential Techniques: Discover the Secret to Perfectly Sewn Necklines!” by Linda Reynolds

I used the same technique for the armholes of the ball gown.

Between learning how to make French darts and understitching, I can safely say that I have graduated to the Intermediate sewing level! I even made it official on PatternReview.com. :P

However, those two techniques were the only new skills I needed to learn in order to make this dress. Everything else– plackets, hem facings, hooks and eyes, and pleats were all things I’d done before. In fact, most of the techniques to make the basic version of this gown without all the trimmings are fairly easy to learn. The most challenging part of the whole thing is the front placket. The rest is wrangling the huge amount of fabric and getting the fit the way you want it.

I know I said that this was going to be the final review, but my process analysis went waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay longer than anticipated! So this is now an overstuffed, underdone trilogy!

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Keep Reading:


Part III: Simplicity 4244 for Day and Night

(also, fewer half-baked jokes….)

Careful, they’re still hot!

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!